Life's not fair -- we were not promised it would be -- but Valentine's Day coming tomorrow, when Lent starts today for some readers?
During Lent, the 40 days leading up to the resurrection of Jesus, many Christians "give up" or fast from certain foods, such as sugar, chocolate, meat or the like.
Valentine's is one of the biggest days of the year for chocolate and candy sales; it's surpassed only by Christmas, Halloween and Easter. According to ACNielsen, Valentine's Day week is the largest single week for candy sales.
And what type of candy is No. 1? Chocolate, of course. Throughout the year, 62 percent of all candy sold is chocolate. During Valentine's Day week, that figure grows to 70 percent.
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With Lent today and Valentine's tomorrow, this year proves to be more challenging. Men and women have to get creative. What better way to get creative than to head to the kitchen for a romantic dinner or a dessert without chocolate?
One of my favorite go-to meals is a quick, low-fat barbecued shrimp served with rice pilaf, salad or green vegetable and a custard, flan or crème brulee. Of course, I can never resist a good creme brulee. This meal is deceiving; it looks as if you have spent the day in the kitchen but actually less than an hour. If you decide on a crème brulee, the dessert can be made a day ahead.
Another dessert for those who don't think white chocolate is chocolate is a compote of mixed berries topped with a white chocolate sauce -- a little dessert picked up
from the Disney folks.
According to "Joy of Baking," white chocolate cannot officially be called chocolate because it does not contain chocolate liquor. Good white chocolate, according to that cookbook, contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, vanilla and lecithin. Make sure when buying white chocolate that it contains cocoa butter, as some brands contain vegetable fat instead of the cocoa butter.
The barbecued shrimp makes a good, healthy Lenten dish, too. This is an Enola Prudhomme recipe that I have tweaked over the years to make it my own.
1 tablespoon reduced-calorie margarine
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I bought some nice sized, already peeled shrimp this week; not too expensive.)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup or low-sodium ketchup
1 tablespoon steak sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce; low-sodium version is best
1/3 cup light beer
In a large skillet over high heat, melt the margarine. Add the shrimp and sauce for 3 minutes or until the shrimp starts to stick to the bottom of the skillet, but stirring constantly to prevent burning.
Add remaining ingredients; cook, stirring for 5 minutes longer or until the sauce thickens. Serve hot. Serves 2.
Note: This dish is easily doubled and tripled.
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1 tablespoon orange zest
8 egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Split and scrape the vanilla bean and combine with the sugar, cream and finely chopped orange zest and scald over medium-high heat, but make sure not to burn. Stir constantly.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, lightly mix the yolks with a wooden or stainless-steel spoon. When the cream is hot, temper the yolks with an equal amount of the hot cream. Add the remaining cream to the yolk mixture and stir to combine. Strain the créme brulee mixture into a clean bowl and place over an ice bath or immediately turn into ramekins.
Pour the custard mixture into 8 (4-ounce) ramekins or custard cups and place them in a large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the custard-filled ramekins, wrap the roasting pan loosely with aluminum foil, and place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven.
Bake the custards for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until custard slightly jiggles when you shake the ramekin.
Be sure to start watching the custard at the 45-minute mark.
Remove the custards from the water bath and allow them to cool to room temperature. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and allow them to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to serve, pour 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar over the top of the custard. Shake the ramekin so that the sugar is distributed in a thin even layer. Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar. Allow the custards to rest for 1 to 2 minutes.
Note: Can also place ramekins in broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize the sugar, but don't take your eyes off them.
Serve the custards with assorted cookies or mixed berries.
The sauced berries work best when the berries are frozen.
BERRIES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE SAUCE
1-1/4 cup mixed berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
To freeze the berries, line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment or waxed paper and arrange the berries in a single layer. When they are frozen, transfer to small freezer bags. They will last for 1 month and are also good in smoothies.
Put the chocolate and cream in a microwaveable bowl and cook for 10 seconds, stir, and repeat heating and stirring until chocolate has just melted (it will take 4 to 5 blasts) and you have a smooth sauce.
You also can put the cream and chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir continuously until the chocolate has just melted.
Pour the hot sauce immediately over the berries and serve at once.
-- From the folks at Disney kitchens
May your Valentine's be the "berry" best with these ideas. Corny, I know, but that's the fun of Valentine's Day.
Tomato soup, not cake
"After reading about tomato soup cake, I wonder if you could get recipes for old-fashioned homemade tomato soup from your readers?" asked a reader from the North, who did not want his name used.
Readers, please send me your tomato soup recipes like you did for the tomato soup cakes.
Speaking of ...
Two readers sent in their tomato soup cake recipes after reading the recipes in last week's column. One is from scratch, the other a mix.
Mary Audion of Biloxi said, "I have to tell you that your column on the tomato soup cakes lifted my spirits. I had never heard of that type of cake so I found the recipes interesting."
These two recipes are from B. Bell and M. Gromko of Bradenton.
TOMATO SOUP CAKE
In a large mixing bowl, combine and cream well:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
1 can tomato soup (I find Campbell's to taste best)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda (divided)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1/2 cup hot water.
Add flour mixture and hot water mixture to first ingredients. Add 1/2 cup chopped nuts and 1 cup raisins.
Pour in greased and floured 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool and frost with a cream cheese frosting or what you desire. (I prefer cream cheese frosting).
-- Submitted by B. Bell
"I enjoy your column weekly in The Bradenton Herald. I recently read that one of your readers asked for a tomato soup cake recipe," said M. Gromko of Bradenton. "This is what my family calls tomato soup cake, although it is actually tomato soup spice cake.
"My grandmother used this recipe from a marketing brochure received circa 1950s. She made this at holiday time and I do, too," Gromko said. "I frost, as she did, with cream cheese frosting. I adjust the liquid with a combination of soup, water and vegetable oil to match the quantity of liquid required from the spice cake directions."
TOMATO SPICE CAKE
1 packaged (2-layer spice) cake mix
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) Campbell's Tomato Soup
1/2 cup water
1 cup chopped walnuts
Prepared cake mix as directed on package using soup and water for liquid. Fold in nuts. Bake and directed on package. Frost with your favorite white frosting.
-- Submitted by M. Gromko
Andrea Yeager, can be reached at email@example.com. Send contributions or requests to Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567. If requesting a recipe, include the name or describe it.